PORTLAND, Ore. Digital money, from smart cards to wireless wallets, will be featured during this week's Intel Developers Forum in San Francisco.
Intel's People and Practices Research group (Beaverton, Ore.) has been for the last year pondering the electronic infrastructure needed to support a new generation of wireless wallets. One goal is to cut the clutter generated by wildly proliferating digital money formats.
A concept video will illustrate how different forms of digital money work by "having them play out in three peoples lives that we are imagining in the future," said Intel researcher Scott Mainwaring.
Digital money emerged when smart cards were designed to store cash, which vendors could access to subtract transadtion funds. The concept has expanded to include nontraditional currencies--from airline bonus points to PayPal credits. Intel researchers are studying various forms of digital money to determine how wireless wallets can use technology to speed transactions.
Intel researchers are "working on designs to expand our imagination about what money might look and feel like in the future," said Mainwaring.
The "personal digital money" project also will explore both the digitization of money and potential pitfalls as well as how digital technology can provide new ways to use electronic cash.
Mainwaring said his team is surveying e-cash projects around the world and applying design techniques to what they find. The "message is that instead of digital technology creating some single universal form of money, it is actually doing the opposite: Forms of money and different types of payment systems are actually proliferating into all sorts of incompatible versions. And for the forseeable future we think that is what digital money is going to be like."
According to Intel, most people won't want to put all their money into a single electronic pot. Instead, users seem to prefer different types of e-cash ranging from online gaming currency credits to electronic toll road payments. The more diverse digital money becomes, the more users will like it, according to Intel, which plans to ease transactions with wireless wallets and other electronic devices.
"Technology gives people the opportunity to differentiate, and that opens up opportunities at Intel to help people deal with all this complexity," said Mainwaring.
Intel researchers have fanned out to study digital money in places where it is already flourishing. In Japan, wireless smart cards enable subway riders to walk through turnstiles as their fare is automatically deducted. In China, a burgeoning gaming culture is establishing its own online currency. And in Kenya, cash can be transmitted wirelessly between cellphones.
Intel found that the way digital money is used should determine the form factor for future digital wallets. While putting money on a cellphone works in Kenya, where cellphones are relatively new, a different form factor is needed for established cellphone markets.
"It actually makes a difference whether your money is on a smart card or on a cellphone," Mainwaring said. "We found that many people were reluctant to swipe their cellphone because, to them, a cellphone [represents] a certain thing," said Mainwaring.
Intel's e-cash project is slated to last at least another year, at which time the Intel unit will recommend the best electronic infrastructure for future wireless wallets.